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Archive for April, 2009

CD Rate Negotiated

April 27th, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Last week my WAMU/Chase CD matured. It had been earning a rate of 4.17% and now that rates are much lower, I knew I'd be lucky to get even 2%... and Chase is currently offering 1.75% for a 12-month CD. It never hurts to ask, so about a week before the maturity date I met with the manager and asked about the best rate Chase could offer. I told her I would invest the funds with the bank that gave me the best rate. She said to give her a day or two to look into the options. When she called me the next day, she said Chase could offer me a "promotional" rate of 2.25% for 12 months. I like the convenience and proximity of this branch, so I accepted.

Dh Ran Out of Gas!

April 24th, 2009 at 11:03 am

Literally. He called me because he was stranded so I went to the rescue. We found a gas station that sold us a cheap plastic 2-gallon container filled with gas for $18.91... What an expensive "mistake."

This is the first time dh has done this in all the years I've known him. All I can think of is that he has been super-busy and very distracted, so he didn't notice the indicator on the dash. Am I ever glad he's decided to retire!

My Neighborhood in the Spring

April 22nd, 2009 at 09:59 pm

Yesterday I went for a walk in my neighborhood and took my camera. I love the way it looks in spring... the fields are green and the flowers are in bloom.

There is a little park about two blocks from my house and I enjoy hiking the trail.


The sign at the beginning of the trail alerts hikers...


The trail takes you past fields dotted with California poppies and other wildflowers.


Our state flower, the poppy.


Coming down the trail, you can see my neighborhood in the distance.


And very close to my house, the flowering pear looks like snow.


A lovely contrast to the heavenly bamboo next to it.


And I'm almost home.

An Uplifting Shopping Trip

April 19th, 2009 at 04:55 pm

Male readers be warned: you will want to skip this post.

JC Penney had a sale today where everything in the store was 20% off, even if items were already on sale. So, I trekked to the mall and bought two bras, normally $35, on sale for $17.99 minus an additional 20% off. Then I paid for the purchase with the $25 gift card I received from My Points, so the bottom line for me was: $6.44. I love savings like this... more then $50!

But I made up for it with my next purchase, although I still got 20% off. I bought some adorable, girlie clothes for the newest member of the family, a baby girl born Friday to my cousin and his wife who live in El Salvador. This baby is truly a miracle... they have been married for 14 years, and both are 41. They had given up on ever having children even though they wanted them badly. So, as you can see, this baby was a big surprise, and as my cousin said in his email to me, "a gift from God."

The Happy Minimalist

April 17th, 2009 at 10:03 am

Yesterday's local paper had an article about a 44-year-old man, Peter Lawrence, who retired early from his job as an HP manager... a very good thing. But what is different about this fellow is that he now lives a life of EXTREME minimalism. And I do mean extreme.

His condo is bare, except for a simple folding chair and an ironing board. He sleeps on the floor in a sleeping bag, uses the ironing board as his "desk," and owns very little clothing. His laptop is his photo album, electronic filing cabinet, TV, CD and DVD player. He says he can pack all his worldly possessions in one suitcase.

Lawrence self-published a book called The Happy Minimalist that describes his lifestyle and the philosophy that motivates him to live this way. According to Lawrence, his extreme lifestyle is not at all about frugality, being a cheapskate, or deprivation. It's about making calibrated choices, consuming less, and preserving resources. Lawrence says he lives "well below his means."

I don't know... this would be a very difficult lifestyle for most people, and certainly for me, but to each his own. However, I'd rather see someone living like this extreme (albeit eccentric) minimalist over someone living a life of extreme excess, well above their means. And I certainly know my share of people that fit into the latter category.

Retirement Planning Pitfalls

April 16th, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who is considering retiring in July. She is 62 and has worked as a teacher for over 30 years. My friend is widowed with a grown son and four grandchildren. (Thankfully, her son will not be a financial burden... he is a successful engineer). According to her retirement estimate, my friend's pension will be about 72% of her current working income. My DF wanted to "pick my brain" because I retired last August, and she's searching for other perspectives on anything and everything related to retiring, especially some of the financial aspects.

So we chatted about what she's done to prepare for retirement. My friend has a 403b account ("small" in her words... not sure what that means) and a savings CD with about "one year's gross salary." DF owns her home that is almost paid for and has no other debt. In talking to my friend, here are some things she DID NOT take into consideration:

1) Inflation: although the state teacher's retirement system guarantees an annual 2% COLA, inflation will likely be higher. DF said she would use her 403b funds as needed to keep pace with inflation.

2) Health insurance: she will not be eligible for Medicare until almost 3 years after her retirement, so she has to plan for health coverage once COBRA runs out. (She thought COBRA would go on until she is eligible for Medicare, but I think it is only 18 months.) She said she would substitute teach to help pay for her health insurance until age 65, or take money from her savings.

3) Paying for increased cost of travel: after retirement, DF will reduce some expenses, but she didn't take into account that travel, a priority for her, might incur more expenses. She said she would use her savings or take on part-time work to pay for travel. Fortunately travel is a "want" and not a "need."

All in all, it seems my friend is on track to retire. She shared that she currently lives on about 80% of her net income, so that is another big plus for her. DF will use her retirement benefit "lump sum" to pay off her small mortgage. And, since she will no longer have a mortgage payment, she will try to add to her savings each month.

I did advise my DF to meet with her HR department regarding COBRA, and a financial planner and/or accountant to get specific financial and tax advice. Taxes in retirement can be an unpleasant surprise if you're accustomed to sheltering income and then find you have few deductions. However, I was happy to share some of the steps I took in my own retirement planning. My DF is doing exactly what I did prior to making the decision to retire... talking to others who have been through the process and leaving no detail to chance.

Stretching a Chicken and Other News

April 14th, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Today I cooked a big, plump 5-pound chicken. I decided it would be fun to challenge myself to see how many meals I can make from ONE chicken. So here is the plan:

Meal 1 ~ Chicken Soup with rice and vegetables, served with whole wheat French bread
Meal 2 ~ Chicken Stir Fry served with brown rice
Meal 3 ~ Chicken Curry over brown rice, served with cucumber salad
Meal 4 ~ Chicken Divan Crepes served with Cesar salad

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On another note, by some miracle we are getting a federal tax refund, but after we pay additional state taxes and the $895 fee to the accountant, we are in the red by $54. Not bad, especially since I thought we would owe much more. It helped that we adjusted withholdings to have more taken out of our checks. We will tweak withholdings again once dh retires.

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My DD1 spent the weekend and we a wonderful visit. I enjoyed every minute with her until it was time to take her to the airport Sunday evening. The whale-watching trip on Saturday was canceled because the water was too choppy for the small boat, but we did enjoy a nice picnic at the beach at Point Lobos. We were blessed with glorious weather and it did not seem all that windy on shore. Then we had fun watching the sea lions and otters frolicking just off shore. The rock in the photo below is covered with sea lions soaking up the sun.


On Sunday, we had Easter brunch at one of our favorite restaurants. In past years, it's been hard to get reservations and they've had so many people that they've had to set up tables outside. It was very different this year... there were more waitpersons than customers. Granted, we had 9:30 reservations, but still, it was weird. The food was amazing and abundant but by the time we left at ~10:45, it was still pretty empty. The buffet included seafood of all kinds, roast beef and turkey, omelets made-to-order, and more.

Sabotage

April 10th, 2009 at 07:45 am

I was without Internet all day yesterday but my situation was minor compared to what could have happened. There was a major communication services outage in the south Bay Area caused by the sabotage of someone who climbed down a manhole in the middle of the night and cut several critical fiber-optic cables (in four different locations). It is clear our infrastructure is unprepared for acts of vandalism of this magnitude. I also think it also gives us a preview of what to expect in the event of a serious natural disaster (e.g., major earthquake). This vandalism will cost thousands of dollars to repair, impacted all communication and emergency services, and put lives at risk.

Aside from the inconvenience, the worst part is that many people were without BOTH cell phone and/or landlines. They were told to go out to flag a patrol car in case of emergency... as if this were easy or practical. Fortunately no one died as a result of a 911 emergency or a fire that could not be reported, but I heard of some very serious situations involving critically ill people. I hope they throw the book at the wretch who committed this vandalism and make him pay. There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator(s) so that gives you an idea of the seriousness of the crime.

On the positive side, we got some much-needed rain yesterday. So, I caught up on my sewing, went to the bank and the grocery store (saved ~$15 with specials), and enjoyed reading by the fire with TC snuggling next to me. My DD1 is coming today to spend the weekend, and I can't wait to see her. I'm off to the airport in a few minutes. We will spend a few hours relaxing at a local spa, enjoying each other's company. On Saturday we are supposed to go whale watching off Monterey Bay, weather permitting. My DS and BIL will go with us so it should be a fun family outing.

Managing April Budget Crunch

April 6th, 2009 at 07:24 pm

April is always a taxing month for us, budget-wise (pun intended, hehe). Our CA property taxes are due, we usually have some additional state or federal income taxes to pay, along with a hefty fee to our accountant, and our annual auto and house homeowner's premiums are due in April. Although no one is happy about paying taxes, at least I don't stress about it because we are ready for these extra expenses.

Each month I set aside a predetermined amount that is deposited in a "reserve" account where the funds earn interest until they are withdrawn. At 1.5%, these funds earn ~$300 in the course of the year. Whenever possible, I put expenses on my rewards credit card first, then pay off the balance when it's due with reserve account funds, further leveraging funds to earn interest a little longer and provide miles used for travel savings.

Some folks let the bank impound tax and insurance payments, but I prefer to earn the interest in exchange for the responsibility of managing it myself. The reserve fund pays bills that are due several times during the year (e.g., taxes, auto/HO insurance, HOA dues, timeshare dues, accountant, etc.). However, it's critical to stay on top of due dates to avoid late penalties.

My Nightmare

April 3rd, 2009 at 05:12 pm

When dh submitted his retirement application, he had to provide a copy of our marriage certificate... not a big deal, and dh was "almost certain" we had a copy in our safe deposit box. We just celebrated 15 years of wedded bliss, but for some reason, this requirement resulted in a chilling thought: what if we are NOT really married? To explain why I would think this way, I must share some of the details of our wedding day.

Our wedding was the epitome of simplicity. We got married on a glorious spring day in our own home, in the company of our children and our closest family and friends, about 25 guests in all. The ceremony was officiated by a friend, a kindergarten teacher I worked with. The delicious food was catered by another teacher and her husband and cost ~$125. The exquisite wedding cake was baked by my sister and was a culinary work-of-art decorated with fresh roses from our yard. My DS also made my delicate wedding bouquet.

The live music (guitar and vocals) was provided by my step-children's godparents and added a very special touch. Champagne and drinks were from Costco, and my stepdaughter and I had fun making the favors. My wedding dress cost ~$150 and was an elegant tea-length ivory gown (bought on sale, of course). We married on a Sunday and took Monday off for a mini-honeymoon in San Francisco. On Tuesday, I returned to work.

Somehow, the details of filing the official document to record our marriage fell to someone else, because I KNOW I didn't do it. What was most alarming was that dh told me he didn't do it, either. Well, the good news is... we ARE legally married! I carefully read the certificate and it is true AND official. Neither one of us remembers how the paperwork was filed, but all that matters is that it was. Phew!

Memories of San Antonio

April 2nd, 2009 at 09:33 am

We got back to CA last weekend from our trip to San Antonio and I hit the ground running, visiting all my student teachers this week... it's been an unusually busy week. Good thing I was rested and rejuvenated after spring break. We loved San Antonio and we definitely want to go back soon. Here are some highlights:

~ Riverwalk Cruise (a bargain @ $7.95; $5 for seniors)
~ Buckhorn Saloon Museum
~ SAS factory tour (San Antonio Shoemakers)
~ Natural Bridge Cavern
~ Wild Animal Park @ Natural Bridge
~ Dinner at the County Line (best ribs I've ever eaten!)
~ Brunch at Mi Tierra (Mercadito)
~ The Alamo
~ Chili relleno stuffed with picadillo (meat) at Rita's on the River
~ The view from the Tower of the Americas
~ Day trip to Johnson City, home of LBJ and Ladybird
~ Wine-tasting in the hill country
~ Catching up with old friends at the Copa Wine Bar
~ Witte Museum
~ San Fernando Cathedral

OK, you can see some of my best memories have to do with food. But, we walked so much that I felt I could indulge without guilt. I did buy a great pair of walking shoes at the SAS factory ($30 off due to an indiscernible imperfection) and I wore them daily after I bought them. My feet were very happy! We stayed slightly under budget, except that I had to replace my digital camera because I lost my old one (and some great pictures). But the replacement camera was only $109, so not really a budget buster. All in all, the trip exceeded my expectations.

This is the view from the patio of our apartment:


Flooding along the Riverwalk is controlled by a series of flood gates (right side):


The cathedral was as beautiful as any I've seen in Europe, with intricate stained glass:


And in case you want the best seat in the cathedral: